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#5 - JRL 7187
Moscow Times
May 19, 2003
Time for Top Down Reform

President Putin's fourth annual address was interrupted by rounds of applause seven times. The clapping, though lukewarm, was meant to commend Putin for what he has achieved since taking the reins of power from his increasingly impotent predecessor.

As Putin pointed out, the Russian Federation is no longer sliding toward disintegration, and the economy is growing steadily.

While claiming credit for what Russia has achieved under his leadership, Putin abandoned his usual caution to outline a vision for Russia stretching even beyond his foreseeable second four-year term, with an incredibly optimistic goal of doubling GDP by 2010.

Putin made no secret of the challenges -- whether inherited from Yeltsin or more recent developments -- the country is facing, including a declining population, a bloated and ineffective bureaucracy and the lack of a sound basis for sustainable economic growth.

Yet while diagnosing these and other ills, the president prescribed virtually no cures in his hourlong speech.

To be fair, the president in his annual address should focus on the state of affairs and his goals for the future, rather than on specific solutions and recipes.

But one cannot help but notice that some specific objectives have yet to be met even though Putin has set them out as priorities in all three of his previous annual addresses.

Among them is systemic administrative reform to reduce the red tape that suffocates business and downsize the state apparatus to make it more efficient.

Perhaps it is time for Putin to finally abandon his cautious management style and impose administrative reform on the powerful bureaucracy from the top down.

As Putin noted in his address, no bureaucracy should be expected to downsize itself. So rather than continue to wait for the ministries to decide how to reform themselves, Putin should take the lead and create an independent board to come up with a plan and then punish those who don't implement it.

He put the Cabinet on notice in his speech by saying it was evident it needs "an additional political impulse and this will be forthcoming." As another stick to prod the Cabinet to act, Putin suggested he would form the next government based on the parliamentary majority in the State Duma.

His message to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and his ministers seemed to be "if you don't have the skill and courage to implement the reforms, I'll get people who do."

One way or another, Putin must find a way to jump-start administrative reform. Otherwise he will find himself speaking about the same malaise at the end of his second presidential term five years from now.

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